How to ruin a design

Paul Boag

I don’t have a proper post for you today. I guess its more of a rant than anything else. Why is it that some of my clients just can’t make a decision on their design?

I have a client at the moment (I wont use names to protect their identity and my income from them) that is going around and around in circles over the design I have created for them. When they first saw it they loved it. Raved about it in fact. However they then started picking over tiny details until now they aren’t sure about any of it.

Well rather than just moan about them I thought I would see if I could get to the bottom of what causes this kind of situation. After all they are not unique.

This is what I have come up with:

Design by committee

One of the most common problems with choosing a design is that more than one person is involved in the decision making process. Because design is subjective you will get a different opinion from every person you show. The more people you show the more opinions you get. If it is necessary to keep all of these people happy you often end up with the lowest common denominator at the end of the day and then nobody likes it.

Can’t see the wood for the trees

Often clients get too close to the design. They think about it too much and end up over working the problem. Its something that as designers we are trained to avoid. “Know when to stop” was one of the first lessons I learnt as a professional graphic designer. If you look at something too long and work on it for too long you will end up ruining it. Its so important to step back and maintain perspective but often people fail to do that.

The domino effect

This is a bit tricky to explain but I have seen clients do it again and again. They look at my design and generally really like it but there is one thing they are not sure about. Instead of going back to the designer and saying “I am not sure that typeface is working” they come back and ask me to change it to Arial. However when that doesn’t look any better they ask me to change something else in the hope that the second change will sort out the first change. This process can go on and on without end. I guess it is partly to do with the point above because they make small changes which end up throwing the whole design out of balance and no amount of additional changes will fix that. They have lost the bigger picture.

Micro management

My clients pay me a lot of money to build them a web site. I am not cheap and they could certainly get somebody to do it for a lot less money. So why do they hire me and not some student working out of his back bedroom? Well I would like to think it is because of my experience. Certainly that is what I am often told. However a surprising number of those clients that say exactly that then go on to micro manage my design. I have had clients tell me to move a box one pixel to the left or to the right. I have had clients ask me to change type size, colours, positions or any other design element you can think of. In short they design it themselves and just use me as an intimidate between them and the software they don’t know how to use. What a waste of money! If that is the way they want to work they should hire somebody a lot cheaper. Why spend all that money on me if they don’t value my opinion or experience. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but it just seems common business sense to me.


So do I have any conclusions… well no, not really. Perhaps this is just a warning to those of you out there hiring web design companies. The client can make or break a project. You can hire the world’s best web design team but if you aren’t managing them correctly your web site will not reflect the skill of the people you hired.

I am not saying you should just go along with every suggestion the web design company makes. Rather I am saying stick with what you know well. You know your company and you know how to sell it. Let the web designer translate that knowledge into the online medium.